EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers named 34-year-old Andrew Ference as its 14th captain in history Saturday night, a local kid who was awarded the “C” at an organizational party at team owner Daryl Katz’s Edmonton home.
“It was an extremely proud moment,” said Ference, who grew up as a neighbor of former Oiler Petr Klima, shoveling his driveway and attending Oilers practices as a kid.
The appointment is Dallas Eakins’ most impactful decision thus far in his short tenure as Oilers head coach. It is no coincidence that a workmanlike, experienced, gritty player like Ference won the captaincy over young offensive stars like Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle.
“I have a vision for this organization on how we’re going to play, but more importantly how we’re going to carry ourselves – and we’re not even close to being there yet,” Eakins said. “It’s important to get the right guy in place, who … has the same values, and is totally, 100 per cent selfless.”
The veteran defenceman signed a four-year, $13 million contract with Edmonton as a free agent in July. Ference has 37 goals, 156 assists, and 645 penalty minutes in 760 career NHL games with the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
More importantly, he has played in 120 playoff games - more than any other Oiler - on a team that has the longest playoff drought in the National Hockey League. Since Edmonton last appearance in the playoffs in 2006, Ference has played in two Stanley Cup Finals with the Boston Bruins, with his third Final appearance coming with Calgary in 2004.
"This team, without a doubt, has a lot of skill, and has a lot of pieces that other teams wish they had. But I think what it's struggled with is having a strong identity," Ference said. "It's easy to talk about how you want to change, or what you want other teams to think of you. But actually doing it ... living it, letting your actions speak? That takes a lot of work.
"That's goal No. 1 here: to establish that identity."
Eakins said he will go with a rotating group of "four or six" players as his assistant captains, beginning on Tuesday, when the Oilers open their 2013-14 season at home against the Winnipeg Jets.